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Saturday, July 10


A column on WorldNetDaily cites an article by Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. Reich apparently believes people who follow God pose a more significant threat to the modern world than terrorists do:

"Terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face, " writes Reich in a column titled "Bush's God" published in the American Prospect.

Reich begins his column criticizing the Bush administration as he pushes for a liberal understanding of America's separation of church and state.

He uses the term "religious zealots" and says their problem is that "they confuse politics with private morality."

Reich concludes his column:

"The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face."
Ah, science, reason, and logic—why didn’t I think of that? And versus . . . what? (Scripture =) Superstition & (dogma =) Ignorance!

We should be glad, I suppose, when people like Reich come right and say what he and so many others are really thinking.

But I do expect most of the persecution and violence to come from the modernists. Modernist ideologies have done a bang up job in the 20th century. The body count was impressive. Will it be worse in the 21st? God forbid.

If modernism means thinking like Reich, then I am certainly an anti-modernist, just on that score alone.

10:02 PM

Friday, July 9


PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release: 8 July 2004
CONTACT: Larry Jacobs, Vice President, 1-800-461-3113 or (815) 964-5819,

The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society is greatly encouraged by the mobilization of Christian America for the Federal Marriage Amendment via PROTECT MARRIAGE SUNDAY.

A number of prominent religious leaders--including Dr. James Dobson, Chuck Colson and Bishop Wellington Boone--have designated this coming Sunday, July 11, PROTECT MARRIAGE SUNDAY. They are urging pastors to devote at least part of their sermon to marriage as a divinely ordained institution and the need to protect marriage by amending the Constitution to limit that honorable estate to a man and a woman.

Clergy are also encouraged to distribute contact information on their state’s United States Senators, to make their voices heard. The following day, Monday, July 12 has been targeted for a massive lobbying effort. The amendment has been scheduled for a vote in the Senate later this month.
Actually, the vote may be very soon. According to the folks at the Alliance for Marriage:
At 9:30 am today [Friday], the United States Senate begins debate on the Marriage Amendment conceived, drafted and introduced into the House and Senate by the Alliance For Marriage.

… We are receiving more reports of calls and communications coming into the Senate from Americans who are beginning to make their voices heard. For example, staff in one Senate office alone reported 3,500 phone calls in the last 24 hours with a ratio of 11-to-1 in favor of AFM’s Marriage Amendment.

…It is clear that our opposition is now concerned about the signs that our side is beginning to pay attention to this national debate. Given the vast ocean of public support for marriage as the union of male and female, our opponents have everything to fear from the American People making their voice heard -- before the courts can complete the process of destroying the legal status of marriage in America…

12:51 PM


Jim Kushiner kindly wrote yesterday to tell you about the death of my father on Monday. My parents’ church is holding a memorial service this afternoon at 4:00, and I would ask for your prayers for my mother, sister, and our family, including the four grandchildren, and if your tradition allows it, for my father as well.

If I may offer one word of advice gained from our experience: when a loved one is dying and the doctors have predicted his lifespan, ignore them and go see him immediately. My father was given six to ten months to live, but only two weeks later his doctor changed his prediction to just four to six weeks. As it happened, he died just one week after that. He lived three weeks after the doctors gave him at least six months. We were blessed to be with him the last five days of his earthly life, because we didn’t bet on the doctors’ prediction.

Among the many helpful and consoling messages from friends are three I will pass on, for those of you who have lost someone you loved — and for the rest of you, who will. The first came from a professor:

I remember a student who came to me after class one day and said she was still grieving for her mother’s death and she wondered if I recommended she see a psychologist. I asked her how long it had been since her mother died, and she said a year. I replied that my mother had died 10 years before and I still grieved, though less often. I assured her that grieving was right. Then the student smiled and said she felt very relieved to hear it. I guess in this day of fast food, we try to have fast grief, but our human nature is too ancient and rooted to bear it.
The second came from another professor:

It is a great grace for you to be able to say goodbye in this way, and for your father to be surrounded by the presence and prayers of those who loved him. One cannot ask for more than that. But it is also a time of immeasurable sadness. The great and painful paradox of life is that the depth of our grief is directly proportional to the depth of our attachment. (And by “attachment” one can mean all sorts of things, including a love that was never adequately shared or expressed, as is so often the case between men, and especially fathers and sons.)

I remember bending down and kissing my father’s forehead at his funeral, and being shocked to find that I was lavishing my tender kiss on what was, in essence, a painted stone. That, too, was a Maundy Thursday moment, in its way. I don’t know why it surprised me so much, but it did. And, in a certain sense, woke me up. God draws us, not only with the prospect of His company, but also with glimpses into the desperate abyss of our condition without Him.

Which is perhaps why it undervalues the force of our attachments to reach too quickly for consolation at a moment like this, and why gracious and well-meaning Christian people can, without meaning to, annoy or even appall one with their anodyne reassurances. Sometimes Christians are embarrassed to express the boundless grief they feel, fearing that will be taken as a lack of faith.

But this is all wrong, on every count. Santayana, my favorite atheist, wrote an extraordinary letter to this effect. He says, in effect, I do not wish to be consoled, but instead want to mourn perpetually the absence of those I have loved. To which I always want to say Amen. Such a view mirrors the mind and heart of Christ better (albeit incompletely), than a reassurance that everything ultimately will be OK, which is of course true, but not the whole truth.
And the last came from a priest:

The death of one’s father gives a whole new meaning to “in loco parentis.” One is suddenly a member of “the older generation” and expected in many ways to be a font of strength and wisdom. One’s role becomes primarily parental, rather than filial. In my own case, I felt as if I were working the high wire without a net.

I am not minimizing the maternal. My mother is still alive, thank God, despite some health problems, and she has lived with us for many years, but I find that she expects me to be the “father” of the family for most practical purposes.

I don’t think a man gets over the death of his father, so much as, raised to new and higher responsibilities, he learns to see that event from the perspective of generations and the panoply of time under God’s Providence. All our fathers lie behind us, and our children and their children reach out in front of us as a living bridge between “Fiat Lux” and the trumpet’s sound.

I had the odd experience of burying my father and one of my sons together, in the same grave. This was a terrible blessing, but it was a blessing, nevertheless. That was sixteen years ago, but I have never had a distracted or unfocused Holy Week and Easter since. The mysteries of fathers and sons open up for us so much of the mystery of the Father and the Son, and as that Father and Son are together, so are we with our fathers, now in the Spirit, and then in the perfection of the General Resurrection.

The tears are a message. It is all a mercy, and it is the opposite of hell to weep for the love of another. Jesus wept, and Hillary of Poitiers called those tears a “sacramentum.” Until the Last Day, we must all partake of that sacrament, and then the Heavenly Father will wipe the tears from all our eyes.

11:40 AM


From the Episcopal News Service, July 8:

NORTH CAROLINA BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY on July 1 sent a letter to clergy telling those who want to bless same-sex unions within the Diocese of North Carolina that they may do so within stated guidelines. "From my perspective as Bishop, the blessing of the committed lifelong unions of persons of the same gender is one way our community can live the Gospel through faithful and loving pastoral care and spiritual support for each other," the letter reads in part. Curry's letter follows official action last month by St. Phillip's Church in Durham, North Carolina, to allow the blessing of same-gender unions among its membership.
(So, now they’re “same gender unions” and not “same-sex marriages”?) The Good News for some is that, hey, everybody’s included. Period. For the Christian, the Good News is that, hey, anybody can be restored and escape the wages of sin, if he will submit to Christ the Lord. I supposed some use the same words, but by them they don’t mean a Lord who really teaches and commands anything of substance other than “include everybody, (and don't ask any questions).”
NORTH CAROLINA SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, named July 6 as the vice-presidential running mate of likely Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts, is a United Methodist who has made various statements on his views of the separation of church and state.

In a December 2003 interview with the Interfaith Alliance, Edwards said: "My faith is enormously important to me personally, as I expect everyone's faith to be important to them personally ... [T]he separation of church and state is absolutely critical. We cannot have our government imposing one faith belief on its people. There are many faiths. All faiths in this country deserve exactly the same level of respect and to be treated with the same level of dignity. And I think the separation of church and state is enormously important to what we are as a nation."

An aide in Edwards' office today confirmed that the senator and his family have for many years attended the Edenton Street Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When you hear someone saying the separation of church and state is absolutely critical, get ready to hear, “While I personally believe life begins at conception, I would not impose such religious beliefs on any one and force her to carry a fetus to full term.” Or something like that. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State should love this guy.

And will John Edwards, since he respects my faith and thinks my Christianity is as dignified as his, support my right to call the “same-gender unions” of North Carolina an affront to the Almighty? Or will he, as others have suggested elsewhere, that this is hate speech and demeaning to homosexuals? Like it or not, friends, this is where the issue is heading. If it goes far enough, it may be illegal to read certain biblical passages and teach on them from the pulpit.

Pastors might want to think about this now, and decide whether or not they should encourage those whom they teach to make their voices heard in the defense of marriage.

11:32 AM


Over the years I have done a good deal of controversial writing, and have received, as one might expect, a good many critical responses. In my own mind I tend to separate the arguments these contain into three classes: clean, dirty, and confused. The clean argument will demonstrate a competent knowledge of what I have actually said, and oppose it on the grounds that it is illogical, immoral, un-Christian, self-defeating, contrary to my stated principles, or the like. I respect people who argue this way, and take their letters seriously.

The dirty argument will be an attempt at sloganeering—which only a stupid person will attempt when writing to Touchstone for Touchstone’s audience—or at cleverness--some rhetorical sleight of hand, usually misrepresenting my views in some way: the old, familiar Straw Man, often loaded with a week's supply of red herrings. One needn’t respond to the apparent substance of arguments of this type, for they have none. They are not really arguments, but attempts to defeat opinion with the appearance of argumentation. I don’t recognize a moral duty to answer this kind of letter, as I do the clean or the confused, but do believe in the practical necessity of anatomizing it in print in the interest of discouraging sophistry.

The dirty argument may also take the form of an ad hominem attack disguised as friendly or clinical concern. One of these is the observation “You have a lot of anger, don't you?” or, “You have to do something about all that hatred you carry around.” What that actually means, as both the accuser and accused very well know, is, “Your dark, haunted life is characterized by the attempt to transfer your self-hatred to others. If you possessed my uprightness and self-control, you would not be blinded by it in this matter over which we disagree, and in which I am right and you are wrong.”

The effectiveness of this ploy comes not only from the fact that the statement itself makes its object want to validate the observer’s point by smashing his face to jelly, but from the fact that the good and balanced man’s conscience will often accuse him of viciousness, so that an outside observation to that effect will mimic the voice of conscience and be met from within by the tendency to admit and correct a fault.

But the accusation is a nearly perfect example of dirty argumentation in that it is designed to evade the question of whether one is angry at, or hates, something that good people should—in which case the accuser, rather than the accused, would be at fault for tolerating or excusing something that should arouse anyone who loves truth and justice. In a single mildly-put stroke, however, the person who does not wish to have his own duplicity with wrong exposed can shame and silence those who oppose it.

The appropriate reaction is to force the question: “Aren’t there some things that should make a good person angry? Is there nothing you hate? If so, why do you blame me? If not, why not?" This should neutralize the attack. Of course, if the conscience remains uneasy, suspecting that the accuser’s accusation may have substance, that is another matter. Perhaps in that case one has received the visitation of a good angel whose thrust one should not parry.

9:28 AM

Thursday, July 8


Some good news:

FRIDAY FAX July 9, 2004 Volume 7, Number 29

Vatican's Role at UN Unanimously Endorsed by General Assembly

In a development that is sure to distress pro-abortion groups such as "Catholics" for a Free Choice (CFFC), the General Assembly (GA) of the United Nations last week decided unanimously to confirm and expand the status of the Vatican at the United Nations. CFFC and its allies, including International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International, have been engaged in a multi-year campaign to have the Vatican ousted from the UN, a campaign that now seems dead and buried.

The GA document adopted last week was the first major clarification of the prerogatives of the Vatican as a "permanent observer state," which has held this status at the UN since 1964. Not only did the General Assembly endorse the long-standing role of the Vatican, it decided to grant it new
privileges, "in order to enable the Holy See to participate in a more constructive way in the Assembly's activities," according to a UN press release.

Perhaps most importantly, the Holy See will now possess the right to participate in the general debate of the GA, the right to circulate documents and the right to reply in debates. One diplomat told the Friday Fax that the Holy See's status could now be likened to a "full member state, just without the vote."

... The GA decision appears to represent a significant fundraising setback for CFFC. CFFC president Frances Kissling, who usually seeks out the media spotlight, has yet to comment publicly on the decision. The "See Change Campaign" for the Vatican‚s removal, however, remains prominently
displayed on the CFFC website.

Copyright 2004 ˆ C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required. Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute

6:45 PM


Regular readers of Mere Comments may be wondering why David Mills hasn't written here for the better part of a week. It is my sad duty to inform readers that David's father, Eugene, died on Monday. David and his family had gone to be with Mr. Mills, who was suffering from lung cancer, last week. David would be grateful for the prayers of all who think to pray for him and his family, including his mother, at this time. A memorial service will be held this Friday.

11:17 AM


I believe that active patriotism is not optional for the Christian, and that merely sentimental patriotism is no substitute. We cannot, and we must not, separate our Christian faith and commitment from our responsibilities to our country.

To understand the reason for this, let us recall why freedom of religion is guaranteed in this nation. The context of that guarantee is inscribed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It is important to examine carefully the precise wording of this very precisely worded affirmation. It does not say that religion and the press shall be prohibited from bringing political influence and power to bear on Congress. It says, rather, that Congress must not bring political influence and power to bear on religion and the press. In not the slightest respect does the First Amendment restrict the influence and activities of religion and the press with respect to the political life of the nation. The restrictions in this amendment are laid entirely on the government, none of them on religion and the press.

In order to appreciate this distinction, we may consider how the First Amendment commonly applies—and has always applied—to the press. Everyone expects the press to be actively involved in political life. No one is surprised when newspapers, radio stations, and television networks comment at length on political activity. We hear no complaints that a constitutional principle has been violated when a city newspaper or a local television channel espouses a particular political cause or endorses a particular political candidate. On the contrary, this is exactly what we envisage as healthy to the political process. We welcome the interference of the press into political matters. This is the state of affairs that the First Amendment was painstakingly written to preserve. Those responsible for the crafting of that amendment were convinced that a vigorous and vocal press is beneficial to the life of the nation.

The prohibition that restricts Congress from interfering with the press has never been regarded as some kind of “wall of separation” between government and the press. We do not expect to find on the editorial page of The Chicago Tribune a statement that says, for example, “Although we ourselves personally approve a woman’s right to choose, we refrain from pushing the point in these pages, lest we appear to be imposing our own moral persuasion on the normal workings of the courts and the legislature. The traditional wall of separation between Press and State must be maintained at all peril.” Likewise, we would be more than slightly miffed if The Weekly Standard were to declare, “No standard is more serious than the separation of government and the press. Therefore, we think it inappropriate for us to interject our own views into the political process and impose our morality on others. We are willing to admit, however, strictly in our private and personal capacity, that our own view of ‘gay marriage’ is something other than completely favorable.” We never expect statements like that from the press.

On the contrary, we take it as obvious that newspapers and journals can say whatever they want on any subject under the sun, including the workings of government, and this is precisely the function they serve in civil society. If the instruments of the press refuse to do this, they fail in that very responsibility envisaged by the principle of freedom of the press.

Furthermore, the freedom of the press from governmental interference presupposes a prior freedom, the freedom of citizens to read or not read what the press has to say. Freedom of the press, that is to say, involves freedom from the press.

A free press, after all, does not mean that we don’t have to pay for our newspapers. The press enjoys freedom from governmental coercion, but it must answer to its readers. They too are free, and if they become sufficiently disgruntled with the editorial page, or any other aspect of the newspaper, they may not renew their subscriptions. They may boycott the advertisers. There is a host of things they may do to express their freedom from the press. In short, the freedom of the press also presumes that the citizenry itself is free with respect to the press. No one is obliged to read newspapers.

Now, because freedom of religion is guaranteed by exactly the same First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press—which it does in identical terms—what is true of the one is in every respect true of the other. If there is no “wall of separation” between Press and State, there is no such wall separating Church and State. Just as the First Amendment lays no restrictions on the press in political matters, it lays no restrictions on religion in political matters. Both are governed by the identical provision.

For the same reason, if we expect the press to argue for its own views with respect to the decisions and workings of government, we should expect no less from the churches. If we are not shocked when a newspaper editor takes a very firm stand in favor of “abortion rights” and employs all the influence of his position to advance this view, it is illogical to be shocked when a bishop takes a very firm stand in favor of “the rights of the unborn” and employs all the influence of his position to advance that view. The same First Amendment protects both the editor and the bishop. The government neither ties nor shortens the arm of either.

Freedom of religion likewise implies, not only that the government may not interfere with churches, but also that citizens are free to join or not join those churches. In the perspective of the First Amendment, American citizens may change their churches as readily as they change their newspapers. The government doesn’t care, and it shouldn’t care.

In this country churches and newspapers are compelled to operate in a competitive open market. They must take their chances with the citizens. Government offers churches and newspapers no guarantee except that of freedom. Such is the provision of the First Amendment.

Churches and newspapers, moreover, are free institutions in two senses; the government may not interfere with them, and no citizen is obliged to take them seriously. What the First Amendment says to the press, it says also to churches: “You, my friends, are on your own.”

The motive inspiring the First Amendment is the key to its understanding. It was the conviction of the founders of this country that the freedom of Americans was to be embodied and expressed in institutions other than the government. They did not believe that the government had all the answers. The government, on the contrary, because it bears not the sword in vain, always has about it some aspect of coercion. The better to insure the government’s own freedom, therefore, the First Amendment provides that there will always be other institutions left free to bring their own influence to bear on the government. Chief among these institutions are the press and the churches. The press and the churches, understanding this to be their role, have always functioned this way.

7:22 AM

Wednesday, July 7


Writing in The Boston Globe Globe Columnist Eileen McNamara makes worthwhile comments about John Kerry’s support for “choice” and his acceptance of Catholic teaching, all at the same time. She opens: “I did not know that Senator John F. Kerry believes that life begins at conception. Now that I do know, I do not understand 20 years of votes supporting a woman's right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.” Some excerpts from her column:

If you believe that life begins at conception, doesn't your conscience compel you to vote in concert with that belief? Just as, if your conscience tells you capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder, you would vote against the death penalty? Or if you believe that gay marriage is a fundamental civil right, you would vote against a constitutional amendment to ban it?

I, and I suspect many others who support legal abortion, had mistakenly assumed that, on this very personal issue, Kerry's conscience was at odds with the teaching of his church. His consistent record in favor of abortion rights, family planning, and reproductive freedom was, I thought, a courageous reflection of an independent mind.

Now, I don't know what to think. I cannot respectfully disagree with him as I do with an abortion opponent whose conscience prompts her to work to unseat lawmakers like Kerry. I understand her. She is acting on principle, lobbying to change laws antithetical to her conscience. I don't understand him, voting consistently in opposition to what he now tells us is one of his core beliefs.
If you read the full article you will read that the interim president of NARAL Pro Choice America, was offended that MacNamara wanted to bring attention to Kerry’s position, when they should pay attention to keeping our "eye on the prize, defeating Public Enemy Number One, George Bush."

Apparently principles are not worth debating for some. Even when innocent human life is the issue.

2:30 PM


In spite of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has given more precise thought to the foundations of law than any other Christian body—or perhaps all of them put together—it is beginning to appear that Roman Catholic lawyers and jurists are expected to disown the tenets of their faith if they want to approved for federal judgships.

The most recent close-call in this connection is J. Leon Holmes, an Arkansas attorney, who was President Bush's nominee for the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas. He was confirmed this past Tuesday by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 51-46, in spite of heavy pressure against his confirmation from feminists, abortion advocates, and others.

The chief complaint against Holmes came from a an article by him and his wife in a Catholic magazine on Christian marriage in 1997, and the chief complaint made against the article was the audacity with which it cited Ephesians 5. With respect to this text, the Holmes couple wrote, "The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church/and as the Church subordinates herself to Christ, in that manner the wife is to subordinate herself to Christ."

This appeal to Holy Scripture was too much for the "usual suspects." "How can I or any other American believe that one who truly believes a woman is subordinate to her spouse can interpret the Constitution fairly?" asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Similarly, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee (and a declared Roman Catholic!), said that Holmes was "intolerant," that he would have an anti-abortion agenda, and would support conservative causes in his role as a judge.

These were joined by several Republicans, such as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who remarked of Holmes that he "doesn't have the fundamental commitment to the total equality of women in our society."

Republican senators and some conservative groups accused Democratic senators of conducting a religious litmus test to exclude judicial nominees of the Catholic faith. Thus, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) indicted his fellow senators for denying Holmes the freedom of religious expression guaranteed in the First Amendment, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), "Are we going to demand that they come before the Senate Judiciary Committee and renounce their faith before they become a federal judge?"

To be truthful, it appears to me that this is exactly what Holmes' opponents have in mind to do.

2:11 PM


I found out more about the story I reported on yesterday, and I have also thought more about the connection between unwanted pregnancies and infanticide, a material connection that is pretty obvious.

Apparently the child that was killed had just been born, and after being stabbed many times was tossed out of the upper story window. Someone found the child later. In the news reports that I heard, the birth was not mentioned, so I assumed different circumstances.

Obviously, it was a birth the woman didn’t want to happen. There is no doubt in my mind that under the right circumstances the mother of the child would have preferred to have an abortion. But from the child’s point of view, there isn’t much difference between a violent death in utero and one after birth. From society's point of view, an early abortion is much neater than this messy infanticide. There is a point to that, but it doesn't make it any more moral.

10:29 AM

Tuesday, July 6


I do get tired of writing about bad news, but it seems that I hear so much of it, especially bad local news. This came in over the weekend. On the next street over from our home on the north side of Chicago, a baby was found dead in the gangway between two houses. The child had been tossed there, it was reported.

A few days later it was reported the child had been stabbed multiple times with scissors, by the mother. The news went on to report that someone from the police department had said that the child was the product of an unwanted pregnancy.

One need not think very long or very deeply to realize that some dots were being put in place for listeners to connect, even without much reflection:
Unwanted pregnancies result in unwanted children; and this can result in horrible crimes such as killing a baby, so the argument goes. The fact that the pregnancy was unwanted was broadcast as an explanation for the crime, or so it was implied (Why say it otherwise?) If the mother’s next pregnancy is somehow “wanted,” will that child be any safer than the one who died? Lord, have mercy on the soul of that poor little child!

How many more dead babies will it take to convince people that human life has become cheapened after Roe v. Wade?

6:17 PM


An interesting article on the issue of Catholic politicians who support abortion receiving Holy Communion reports on the U. S. Bishops vote on the matter and gives the text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s memo on Communion and abortion.

The link also reports on the issue of “gay marriage” and the bishops and the Vatican:

According to John L. Allen of the “National Catholic Reporter,” during a meeting in the Vatican with secretary of state Angelo Sodano, George W. Bush complained that “not all the American bishops are with me” on questions such as the defense of marriage, and he asked the Holy See to encourage the episcopacy to be more decisive.

No sooner said than done. The president of the bishops’ conference of the United States, Wilton Gregory, asked the bishops by letter on June 24 to put pressure on their respective senators to vote in favor of the constitutional amendment decisively sought by Bush to defend the institution of marriage and block the legitimization of gay unions.
This is encouraging in that it also shows not only the official bishops support for the amendment, but also that President cares enough about marriage to bring it up during his meeting at the Vatican last month and ask for some support. He as much did the same thing just a week earlier to a group of religious publishers, noting that there needs to be more popular and vocal support for a constitutional amendment defending marriage.

2:00 PM


A reader comments about my blog from July 2 “Moore’s Passion?”:

Kushiner asks concerning the two films, "why the parallel in the minds of some on the left?"

The parallels between the two movies seem quite obvious to me – one hardly has to be "on the left" to see them. Both were made by big name celebrities in the movie business. Both are rooted in highly personal ideology (left wing politics; traditionalist Catholicism). Both were so controversial that they had serious difficulty finding mainstream distribution. Both were widely criticized as hateful and wicked and denounced as films no one should see. Both profited enormously from the publicity generated from the controversy. Both have their true believers turning out in droves as much to demonstrate support for the cause as to see the film. Both are, in my opinion, pretty well made films, but both are really only effective in preaching to those who are already believers (again my opinion, and regretfully so in the case of Gibson's film).

The parallels seem to have been quite widely commented on: a Google search for the terms gibson passion moore fahrenheit film turned up 16,800 hits, led by commentary from a lot of mainstream news organizations.

Kushiner's attempt to explain the perception of a parallel seem rather strained and unnecessary to me.
I posed the question rhetorically, of course, thinking that a comparison fair game, and wondering why this was the case a useful exercise.

As to the parallels our reader points out: First, one could hardly put Moore and Gibson in the same category as big-name celebrities. Second, Moore is known as an activist filmmaker on political issues. If someone in 2002 on the right had said, let’s find someone to make a right-wing film on Iraq, would the response have been, Oh, Mel Gibson’s the guy to do it? Or in 1998, let’s get Bill Clinton--Mel Gibson’s the guy? In the future, is Mel Gibson the guy to take on President Kerry, should it come to that? My point is that Gibson made a deeply religious film (obviously) and that it put a spotlight on the believers as believers in Jesus discomforts people on the left.

Third, the “highly personalized ideology” of both: While Gibson embellished his film with material from extra-biblical sources, and he did produce a personal version of the Passion, the story line remained intact and central to the film: it was appreciated by Baptists and Methodists and Catholic and Orthodox. Calling his film simply the product of “highly personalized ideology” is off the mark. It’s a personal rendering of the much larger and greater tradition shared by billions. St. Mark’s gospel is different and reflects the writer, but it isn’t a highly personalized ideological portrayal of Christ.

Still, that fact that both films have been cultural events invites comparisons, and that I readily concede. It prompted my writing in the first place. I am not one bit surprised by the Google numbers.

What I found interesting is as I had written: “Rather than portraying a different religious figure or thinker or philosopher, [Moore] savages George W. Bush. Now why is that parallel to a film promoting Christianity?”

There really is a “passion” about F. 9/11, and it is because of the high value, primary value, placed on politics. If George W. Bush gets re-elected this fall, the rise in blood pressure and the heart-palpitations on the left will be much greater than anything on the right, I think, if John Kerry wins. Not there will be none, but for those on the left, the only show in town is the ballot box and its fortunes and misfortunes. Religious believers, having seen what political concerns did to Christ, know that there is much more to life than politics.

11:48 AM


Contributing Editor Robert Hart responds to "UNITY, SAINTS & DIALOGUE" posted over the weekend:

"But with all the dialogue going on, and the appeal for it year after year, I have to wonder who’s talking and what are they learning? Does it go anywhere? And I wonder how many ecumenical professionals are lining up to attend the first international consultation of Christians and Wahabi Muslim terrorists." [from blog]<

Well, I, for one, probably could benefit from dialogue that would help me overcome the prejudices about Islam that I acquired during the 1980s. After a bit of reading, I came to the prejudiced conclusion that, if the Soviet Union were to fall, radical Islam would appear on the world stage as the most dangerous force to threaten civilization. I went as far as to think it likely that they would employ terrorism right here in the United States, concluding, in my prejudice, that their targets would include the World trade Center, and also whatever important sites they could manage to strike in Washibgton D.C. And, in my prejudice, I believed that only by treating them as enemies in war, instead of as criminals for prosecution, could we have any hope that we might withstand their assaults. If some kind of interfaith dialogue does not help me overcome these prejudiced ideas, I might even find myself voting to re-elect an able war time President.
--Robert Hart

10:33 AM

Monday, July 5


"Sweet land of liberty" is a phrase that I remember singing fairly often when I was a kid in public school back in the late fifties and sixties. Liberty was that for which we Americans fought the Revolutionary War; the liberty of slaves was the goal of the Civil War. The soldiers who fought in World War II were seeking to liberate Europe from fascist tyranny and protect America from the threat of a Nazi-occupied Europe.

During the Cold War, we engaged a foe that provided no liberties for its citizens and was known for its gulags and secret police, as well as an "Iron Curtain" across Europe designed to keep people from leaving.

Many people lost their lives in defense of our freedoms. I am thinking particularly of the generation that is now slowy passing from the scene, the soldiers of World War II, those who hit the beaches at Normandy, Anzio, Guadacanal and so many other places, who gave up their lives, or were wounded, or survived nights of bombing, air assualts, canon fire, and endured days and months and years of living on the field, in cold and heat, away from home and loved ones for the sake of their country. I can only imagine the burdens they faced.

I think of the men who died at Anzio. What would they think of our country today? For one thing, I think it a remarkable acheivement and a testimony to the character of America that our sworn enemies in World War II did not come to hate us after the war. I am not saying their was no bitterness, but it would seem to me that, given the expectation of what a victor usually does to the vanquished after war, America has shown itself to be of a different spirit. Which nation is expected to help rebuild those whom they have defeated? America helped to rebuild Germany and Japan, as we know, and we take for granted our generally good relations with both countries. (I note in passing a very small consequence of America in Japan: the growing number of Japanese baseball players in the Major Leagues. That Japan adopted baseball and that it thrives there is amazing, given the bitterness of the war with Japan.)

America has been recently tarnished by the conduct of some guarding prisoners in Iraq. There is no excuse for this. On the other hand, it is because America is held to a higher standard that everything we do is scrutinized for the least hint of selfishness, arrogange, or impure motives. As the British writer Roger Scruton recently remarked in a speech here in Chicago, America is the only country in the world that is expected to go to war for altruistic motives. Other countries, he said, might be excused for invading a country of a perceived enemy like Saddam Hussein, capturing or killing him, defeating whatever forces they encounter, and then abandoning the country, having achieved its objective. But America has stayed on in Iraq at great expense to itself, receiving much criticism, and is expected to be there for altruistic reasons.

One might argue whether our foreign policy is wise, or whether there are provable ulterior and selfish motives. My point is that, in line with the remarkable achievement of America's friendship with Germans and Japanese--and now even with Russians so far after the Cold War--it would seem that our country stands out in history as interested in the good of others ultimately, if even it sometimes mistakes what is in another country's best interest.

To the extent that we have treated enemies well, one cannot help but think that one reason for this is the Christianity inherited from our ancestors. Love your enemy is an ideal, one not easily work out in perfection in this fallen world. In times past, some cultures in the West beheaded their enemies, descrated their graves, raped their women. They had their own reasons. Such treatment of enemies is shameful now. The fact that a Geneva Code even exists, a product of the West, even if not always adhered to by the letter, is a testimony to a long legacy of Christianity.

Those intent on banishing the power of religion from the public square would do well to think about what sort of men may emerge who have no memory of the example of Christ, the one who restrains sin and sets an example to all of mercy and forgiveness, love of neighbor and even, yes, love of one's enemies.

1:56 PM

Sunday, July 4


This is the third in the series of blogs I have been running on science to coincide with our latest issue of Touchstone. Occasionally I read articles from a variety of fields to see what is new and to see what passes for legitimate science in different areas. Today's article is from the July 1 issue of Nature. I chose Nature because it is the most prestigious science journal and I spent about five minutes looking for an article that made no sense to use in this example. This particular article is also summarized in Science News, Nature generally being inaccessible online to those without university access. The original article begins:

A remarkable specimen has been discovered of an Early Cretaceous pterosaur that has a tooth embedded in one of its cervical vertebrae: the tooth has been identified as one from a spinosaurid theropod dinosaur. This fossil is direct evidence that spinosaurs included items other than fish in their diet.

That is, the backbones of a pterosaur, a flying dinosaur with a ten foot wingspan, have been found that contain a tooth from another dinosaur. The tooth belonged to a spinosaur, a biped that was presumed to be typically about 30 feet from head to tail. Since one usually doesn't find teeth embedded in a spine, this is unusual.

The point to note here is the conclusion drawn by the authors:
Although the dinosaur did not swallow that part of the neck, this rare evidence of predation or scavenging shows that pterosaurs were part of the diet of spinosaurs, which we conclude were not strictly piscivorous.

Here's the problem with this article: contrary to the second sentence in their opening paragraph, this does not show that these flying dinosaurs were typical food for the spinosaurs precisely because the tooth was found. That is, the spinosaur did not eat the pterosaur. He spit it out. If the spinosaur had eaten the pterosaur, we would not have any fossils because the bones would have been crushed. So, the only thing we can conclude from this is that a spinosaur once bit a pterosaur and decided not to pursue the matter any further, which is the opposite of the authors' point.

Using the same logic one could surmise from the physical evidence of teeth marks that my dog lives on old shoes and furniture, and that my youngest son subsides on pencils and his elder brother. Perhaps I should write an article for Nature on evidence of canibalism in the Buchanan household.

Lesson: many scientists never allow data, even their own, to fly in the face of a good theory.

This is the most prestigious of scientific journals. What passes for good logic in lesser journals can be rather scary.

6:44 PM


I missed this story from earlier this week, but it’s still worth commenting on:

Zenit: Vatican Dossier : 1 July 2004

Christian Unity Will Give Credibility to Evangelization, Say Pope and Patriarch Joint Declaration at Conclusion of Bartholomew I's Visit to Rome

Vatican City, July 1, 2004 ( Christians must recover their lost unity to witness to the Gospel "in a more credible way," John Paul II and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I say in a joint declaration.

The declaration, published today by the Vatican press office, culminated the visit of Orthodoxy's "first among equals" to Rome, on the occasion of the solemnity of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, feast of the Rome Diocese.

"In the face of a world suffering all kinds of divisions and imbalances, today's meeting is an effort to recall in a concrete way and with force the importance that Christians and Churches live among themselves in peace and harmony, to witness concordantly the message of the Gospel in a more credible and convincing way," the declaration says.

"Many are the challenges to be addressed together to contribute to the good of society: to heal with love the wound of terrorism, to infuse a hope of peace, to contribute to cure so many painful conflicts; to restore to the European continent the awareness of its Christian roots," the two religious leaders continue.

In the statement, Orthodox and Catholics in effect commit themselves "to construct a real dialogue with Islam, because from indifference and reciprocal ignorance only diffidence and even hatred can ensue."
I have followed the meeting of the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch for years now, and I am glad they are meeting and pray, indeed, for Christian unity. Between Catholics and Orthodox, and between all Christians.

While I am all for Christian unity (an editor for an ecumenical journal), I am at the point where I am less interested in Christian unity and more in Christian sanctity. I think sanctity a more powerful witness than even unity. Indeed, the sort of unity that Christ prayed about was rooted in the divine life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any unity flowing from that divine grace will most certainly be accompanied by sanctity. If it isn’t, then it is some other kind of unity.

Our society badly needs heroic men and women who strive for true holiness. The churches are in deep trouble, generally. What we could use are a few living saints. We seem preoccupied with method, policy, program, numbers, business or marketing savvy, often turning to the latest genius or high-powered “task force” who has a new program for church growth or church renewal or even church unity.

As to addressing terrorism and real dialogue with Islam, I find the comments inadequate. I don’t know that if I am indifferent to the tenets of Hinduism and even ignorant of them that diffidence and even hatred necessarily must follow. Any Christian who is taught to think and act as a Christian must love his neighbor and respect all. There is no excuse for mistreatment of anyone and I know that as a Christian. I also don’t know how knowing what Islam actually teaches will change someone’s indifference into something better.

I know this all may sound cranky and a bit un-ecumenical and not very inter-faith-sensitive. Really, I do see value in knowledge and personal encounter with the “other.” It’s just that I have read so much of this sort of appeal now for decades that I wonder how much cash value it has anymore. It shouldn’t take a great deal of honest and open dialogue to eliminate mutual ignorance. But with all the dialogue going on, and the appeal for it year after year, I have to wonder who’s talking and what are they learning? Does it go anywhere? And I wonder how many ecumenical professionals are lining up to attend the first international consultation of Christians and Wahabi Muslim terrorists.

1:12 PM

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